Jul 03 2013

    Looking for a dog shelter in Hanoi is like looking for a bacon rescue centre in London. Seeing a dog in the streets of Hanoi is not far different from seeing a pig walking down Oxford Street: you wonder how long before it will be in someone’s stomach. No one wants to help dead-meat.

    Nevertheless, I’ve decided I’m going back to rescue those dogs I saw in the cell at the restaurant just over 24 hours ago (blog time is a bit delayed). A long trip back to the jungle but I hope to bring them here to dog-meat city for a new life.

    Clearly, things are stacked against me.

    1)They might be dead already. There’s no telling how long dogs are kept before being ordered for a snack.

    2) Frustratingly, I cannot get through the pangolin centre to tell them to head to the restaurant to stop them being killed. I will pay of course. I have left eight messages but I must remind myself how strange this will appear – it is like a Laos person coming to London and demanding to go to Burger King to save a really cute cow.

    3) I have no idea where to take these dogs – can they get a proper life? Is there a rescue centre good enough?

    4) I have to find transport for three dogs on the brink of death. London taxis don’t take pigs. I doubt the taxis take dogs over here.

    But as good as the Vietnamese are at eating dog they are equally good at providing service. My hotel staff are so keen to please they would probably pop the whitehead on my forehead if asked. So when I ask for a taxi to take me back to the Cuc Phoung National Park…

    ‘Yes, how long you stay please in our beautiful park?’

    ‘Five minutes.’


    ‘Then I come back. With dogs. That people want to eat. I rescue them’

    Only a slight pause, then. ‘Yes, sir, no problem’

    Foreigners must appear …so foreign. It is not long before they find a facebook cat rescue group.


    Some sad news

    I call up the cat rescue. A woman is practically in tears at the idea of a dog being killed. This is a welcome surprise. I agree to take a taxi to meet her immediately. Just as I leave I get through to Phoung and urge him – right now – to go and stop the dogs being killed. Things are moving fast.

    But thirty minutes later, after I drive off into the Hanoi madness (the taxi going against the motorbike traffic like a boat struggling upstream) I get a text

    ‘I am Hung, Phoung’s assistant, I go to Nho quan for see three dogs (we see yesterday) like you asked and so I sorry, but when I go there I ask salesman but he says ‘kill’ all’. Sorry for this’

    My heart sinks.

    Another one of the millions of dogs out here has bitten the dust. I feel awful but in a strange way relieved – the stillness of death seems nothing like the pain of the path leading up to it. But the guilt sets in. I should have done something sooner…

    The cat rescue centre - very surreal to find this in Hanoi, Vietnam

    Cat rescue home

    I arrive, deflated, at the cat-rescue woman’s house. On a small bustling street the house is open fronted like a vast café spilling out on to the street with many young people – average aged 21 – sitting inside drinking milkshake and scanning the internet on large-faced mobiles. On the floor are tiny cats playing with electric mice and paper butteryflies and on the wall are pink-framed pictures of cats. I have entered a surreal Asian cat fantasy bar: I imagine that at any minute dancing girls and swirls of pink and candy floss will appear.


    Cat pictures on the pink walls of the cat rescue centre. So someone loves animals around here....

    Cat pictures on the pink walls of the cat rescue centre. So someone loves animals around here….

    I bought 4 and wore them around Hanoi. Yes, I looked like an idiot but who cares.

    I bought 4 and wore them around Hanoi. Yes, I looked like an idiot but who cares.

    I drag my sorrow inside, take my shoes off and then, from a young woman, I buy four badges that say ‘I LOVE DOGS’ on them

    This is the new wave of animal lovers coming through and it’s good to see. I meet my contact, a young and eager Hanoi girl. I tell her about the dogs being killed – she was sad but not surprised

    ‘They kill them very soon after capture. We don’t rescue dogs from the dog meat trade – we are not allowed to use the money we raise on that because the killers will jiust go back and get more dogs’

    That made me feel better – but not much.

    ‘Why do so many people eat dogs then? If some of you love animals’

    ‘Actually many people they love their dogs. My father too!He brush his dog every day, he feed it good food he stroke it. Then he go out and eat dogs in restaurant’

    I was surprised. But later, after having a conversation with Ann, she made me realse there is nothing strange about this at all. Many farmers love their animals and still eat meat. This man is making a distinction between dog-as-pet and dog-as-food. This is no more abitrary than our own distinction between dog as pet and pig as food. Both are drawing a compassionate line in the sand, one within a species, one across a species, which are as divisive and ultimately, meaningless as each other. (we draw the same boundaries within our own species on a daily basis: we love our families, we care far less about strangers. Perhaps her father is more honest about the limits of his compassion then us dog lovers???)


    A difficult river to cross.

    This journey into compassion feels at times like walking across a river on floating planks. I’m looking for solid ground but at any moment I might sink under the weight of my own inconsistencies. What is right, what is wrong?

    Over there on the far bank seems to be a land with answers but which I am not sure I want to reach. A land of veganism where I must let ants come into my house and where I will beaten with cold slabs of tofu. A place where I have to be open to a lifetime of the pain of species all over the planet….a place where I have to accept that those people I love – and those that I do not – are somewhat blind to the mass torture of innocents on a scale which, numerically at least, is without precedent.

    Does anyone know how to build a bridge??I’d like to maybe go back and forth a little.

    I’d like to apologise to those of you that have offered money to save these dogs. Maybe next time. I’d also like to thank those of you who have donated to the puppies. They have new names: GIPPER (meaning ‘happy’ in Korean) and DAISY or LUCKY depending on sex. Thank you!

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    Jul 02 2013
    The wildlife rescue centre in Hanoi where I went to visit the remaining living pangolin - and where I was not allowed to take photos

    The wildlife rescue centre in Hanoi where I went to visit the remaining living pangolin – and where I was not allowed to take photos

    I’ve not slept well.

    I’ve been thinking about the remaining three dogs in the restaurant cell, awaiting their end. Is this sloppy British sentimentalism – or reasonable compassion?

    I’ve had to leave at 6am to get to Hanoi to see the pangolins before it’s too late. They too are about to perish in the rescue centre after their ordeal enroute to China. This is why I am here. I have to see them.

    The four hour journey from jungle to city has me wracked. I want to go back and rescue those dogs – or at least the youngest, the one with the hopeful stare – but at the same time it’s no solution. I have no where to put them and if they are released on to the street they will be caught again. The m0ney will just back into the dog meat treade. They are agressive too…and nervous and likely very sick.  And yet I am here to help. Fuck. If I was tougher I would put them on a rope and walk to Hanoi. I am not that man.

    Perhaps I should be

    I visited the government wildlife ‘rescue centre’ north of Hanoi to see the pangolins – but was only allowed if I took no photos of the pangolins (why I have no idea). A vast concrete complex, empty and parched and  sad, like a third world school out of hours. Occasional officials in smart uniforms strutting with communistic pride but otherwise full of echoes and emptiness. Then, far at the back, endless cages, some small, some vast, tuffed full of ‘seized’ wildlife from the trade.

    Young tigers, frantic civets, nervous gibbons,wide-eyed Loris, jungle cats, vast birds of prey. Hopelessly out of context in metal cages that stand in the heat. The animals are waiting for something that will never come: release. What will happen to them?  These are the so called lucky ones – the ones that have been caught from the traders but I fear for their future. This is no place for the sick animals and I can not imagine that many do well.

    the civets and pangolins were in the dark cages below the windows. I was not able to photograph them. grim

    the civets and pangolins were in the dark cages below the windows. I was not able to photograph them. grim

    The bare rescue centre

    The bare rescue centre

    Gibbon and child

    Gibbon and child



    Stroking a tiger

    I find myself stroking a tiger through the cage. A stupid thing to do but weirdly appropriate for this lawless non-zoo. I guess I want to give some human touch. A gibbon reaches out and tries to grab me with its long arms. It has a  baby that is so small that it has escaped the cage and sits on top  in new found freedom unsure of where to go next. Go back in to your mother before you grow to big! Or maybe just run….

    Then we see the pangolins. Depressing as hell. We walk into a  circular concrete building that has around it’s perimeter two rows of cages at floor height. Every single one has a civet inside it – a cat like creature that sells for about $30 on the market for meat – except for two cages that each have a small pangolin inside, rolled up into the inevitable ball on the hard concrete. Even I can see they are emaciated. These are the only two survivors of the 57 that were confiscated on the border of vietnam and china.

    Why the hell can’t these go to the proper rescue centre up in Cuc Phuong National Park where I was staying? Paperwork apparently. I ask to see the dead pangolins (7 of the 57 initially survived and were transported down here, 5 then died). But I am not allowed? Why? Why? I fear they have already been sold for meat to restaurants.  There are no answers here and I feel short changed.



    Screw it. I’m going back to the jungle to rescue those dogs. I’ve decided. I’ll find a way. Enough animals in cages. I’m calling the pangolin rescue centre and will ask them to go and stop them being killed. Act first and worry later. There must be a home for them in Hanoi (where they eat dogs…Martin, what are you doing??????)

    Will report back…


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